Protecting your good reputation
Your reputation is precious. You spend your lifetime acquiring it. It represents who you are, and how you are perceived by others. So when someone says or does something to injure your reputation it can be devastating.
Many of us have seen the recent media reports about Mamdouh Habib’s defamation win in the courts. The former terror suspect, detained for five years before being released without charge, took action against a newspaper for writing an article that raised doubt about the truthfulness of his claims of torture while he was in custody.
Many of us think of defamation law as being out of reach for ordinary people. Isn’t it only for wealthy, famous people at the receiving end of defamatory comments in the press?
Actually, no. Ordinary people can and do take defamation proceedings, often with successful results.
Defamation is when your reputation is damaged because someone makes false or malicious comments about you (slander), or publishes them (libel), which negatively affects other peoples opinions of you. It might also result in you suffering financial loss.
An important question is this; does the person have the right to say what they have said? Defamation law has to balance freedom of expression with protecting an individual’s reputation. You can’t file a defamation suit against your neighbour for an abusive comment over the back fence.
Before commencing a defamation suit against someone, you need to know whether they will be able to legally defend their actions/words.
One legal defence is “justification”. This means that what they have said about you is true. If they can prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the thing they said is true, then it’s not defamation.
“Honest opinion” is another defence. A bad review of a restaurant is the opinion of the reviewer. As long as it’s reasonable, and based on facts truly stated, it generally can’t be held to be defamatory, however harsh.
A former employee of a company who emails his former colleagues alleging inappropriate conduct by the boss, could use “qualified privilege” as a defence if the boss files a defamation suit. This means that anyone belonging to a particular group is privileged to know things that might affect the group. If the information went outside the company, the boss might have a defamation case.
It’s a complicated area of the law, which has become even murkier with the advent of the internet.
Many defamation cases are settled out of court. A letter of demand from your lawyer will often be enough to get the person responsible to cease, and retract, their comments. This might also mean an apology is published.
Getting legal advice is crucial. Some experienced lawyers will back their judgement and handle your claim on a “no win no fee” basis.